Here’s where our religions might be able to help. It’s a fundamental tenet of most faiths that the journey inward precedes the journey outward. As Gandhi famously put it, we must embody the change we wish to see in the world. If the world is to be less violent, then I ”” not you ”” must be slower to anger and kinder in my speech. Is everyone who drives slower than I really an idiot? Are the ones who drive faster really maniacs? And what am I teaching my kids when I talk like this? If there is too much sex and violence on TV, then I must turn it off ”” not just complain to my wife that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
This unwillingness to accept personal responsibility for one’s own share of a collective problem sometimes surfaces in marriage counseling. Here’s what I used to say to the individual who kept blaming his or her spouse: “Well, how much would you say is your fault? Ten percent?” “Oh, sure,” the person would reply. “I’m good for at least 10%.” “Great,” I would say. “Let’s talk about that 10%.”
It’s time to steal a play from members of the World War II generation. Those people took individual responsibility seriously. They were restrained in their speech and frugal with their money. And, they were determined to put more back in the world than they took out ”” especially when it came to their children. They understood that the greatest self-actualization (my generation’s obsession) came not through titillating their nerve endings but through service to others, whether on the battlefield or in their communities. Neither America’s problems nor the world’s are insurmountable if we can follow their example.